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Crime & Justice

Consultant proposes $2 billion overhaul of LA prison facilities

The Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles, September 10, 2006.
The Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles, September 10, 2006.

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LA County jails may be in store for a big makeover. A consultant hired by the county has laid out grand plans for a $2 billion overhaul of the jail system. It's in need of it, because the buildings are aging and incredibly overcrowded.

For more on yesterday's proposal to revamp the system, we are joined by KPCC crime and safety reporter Rina Palta.

Interview Highlights:

What are the conditions of the county jails?
"I don't think there's anyone in the county that would tell you that men's Central Jail in downtown LA where they house a lot of the men is in good shape. It was built in the '60s/'70s, but it looks like it could be 100 years old. It's a really old style jail, lines of cells and a deputy walking down the blocks. It's considered really unsafe, it's been the source of a lot of these federal investigations that you've heard about with the Sheriff's Department. I don't think there's anybody in the County that would say that that jail does not need to be shut down, the question is just what to do next."

What can you tell us about this consultant?
"I know it's Vanir Construction Management company; some activists in the County who are not in favor of building a new jail have made a big deal about that. They're saying of course the construction company is going to tell you to build more jails to solve your crime problem instead of investing in social services and doing some of the other things you could do to bring your jail population down."

What has this construction company proposed?
"They have a range of options, I believe five options for the county, in the ballpark of $2 billion that would basically add a new women's jail at the Mira Loma Detention facility, which used to be for housing immigrant detainees for the federal government, they shut that down. The other thing is to replace Men's Central jail with a new facility that would be devoted primarily to inmates with mental health issues and inmates with substance abuse issues."

So they would just knock down the Men's jail all together and start fresh?
"I'm not sure if all the proposals call for that, but there's no rehabbing of Men's Central Jail, this is a new facility…I think the issue is having the right kinds of beds for people. Right now the mental health facilities in both the women's jail in Lynwood and the men's jail in Twin Towers are really overcrowded.

"There's not enough treatment space for the inmates that have mental health needs, a lot of our jail inmates have mental health needs. There's also stacking of beds in bad places. Day rooms in gyms are having stacks of bunkbeds instead of being available for programming space, so I think the idea is to replace all of those beds with better beds. Beds designed to house the kinds of people that we actually have in jail."

Any sense of how long it would take to follow through with these plans?
"It would take years. This is not a problem that is going to be solved very quickly with construction. Construction takes a long time, this is just the initial planning phase and the Board of Supervisors hasn't even said that they're necessarily committed to building a jail yet."

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Vanir Construction Management in a quote.